This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1740 words.
For Callum, it had all been worth it. He had spent every penny of the inheritance, re-mortgaged the house, and used up all the donations from the various trusts and foundations that had supported him in the early days. The military had been very interested of course, but they would have wanted to control things, and monitor his progress, so he had made sure to escape their attentions. Janet had left after the first three years, no longer content to sit alone as he spent his life in the laboratory built in the cellar of the house, or watch him spend all the money they had.
The friends and family had all shunned him too. Constant begging or demands for loans to pursue his wild theories, heated arguments about the practicality of his idea, and the fact that he seemed to them to be almost demented as a result of his obsession. They had no vision, no idea of the possibilities or potential wonders. His genius for chemistry was well-known, but all they could come up with was that he should get a ‘proper job’. He should work for a drug company, find a cure for disease, and put his genius to good use. To hell with them, and their dull brains. He would prove them all wrong.
Even though he suspected it would be irreversible, Callum didn’t hesitate to inject the solution into the vein raised on his left arm. Almost twenty years of research at the expense of everything he knew and loved, it had all come down to this moment. He dropped the syringe on the floor, and sat down heavily in the battered armchair. There was a good chance it would make him sleepy, and it might also take most of the night to work. But in less time than he had anticipated, it was definitely working. Pulling up his trouser leg, it seemed his shoes were attached to nothing. Minutes later, and he could no longer see his hands, though he could still feel them on the arms of the chair. An hour later, he stood to remove his clothes, a tingling of unbridled excitement coursing through his whole body. Approaching the long mirror in the corner, he hardly dared to raise his eyes and look. When he did, he yelled, a mixture of joy and surprise. There was nothing there, no reflection. He was invisible.
Callum typed up his notes on the laptop. He wrote the date in capitals, underlined it, and added exclamation marks. At the end of the short paragraph, he added two words. ‘FINALLY’. ‘SUCCESS’. He suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. Despite wanting to continue to explore the possibilities of his condition, he could not fight the need for sleep, and collapsed onto the sofa next to the fireplace.
It was late when he finally woke up. He felt cold, and not being able to see any of his own body felt strange too. But for him, it was more validation of his theory, and didn’t concern him at all. Going outside was the next step. Being around people who could no longer see him would confirm his life’s work. He would have to get used to being cold. Walking barefoot, and being unable to carry anything. He wouldn’t be able to wear his contact lenses of course, as they would appear to be floating six feet in the air, so extra care would be needed, with below average eyesight. Locking the door behind him, he realised he couldn’t take the keys. What would he do with them, without a pocket to keep them in? He slid them under the doormat, flattening the bunch so it didn’t look too obvious.
The car was no longer of any use. He could just imagine the surprise of other drivers, watching a car being driven by nobody. He could use the bus, but it would depend on being able to slip in with others when the doors opened, and then he would have to avoid them coming into contact with him, leaving them wondering who they had bumped into. Best to walk. As he strolled down the lane, things hurt the soles of his feet. Tiny stones and twigs, never noticed under shoes, now felt like sharp tacks digging in. A young woman pushing a toddler in a buggy approached him as he got to the main road. He flattened against the wall of a house, and she passed him by without so much as a glance. Incredible. He couldn’t get the smile off his face. In the old films, invisible men always wore some sort of disguise. A hat, sunglasses, and a big scarf perhaps, all designed to be removed later, when they wanted to go about their invisible business. But he wasn’t chancing discovery like that, no disguise would work in the long run, he had concluded.
Walking in a crowded place where you cannot be seen is not as easy as it seems. People do not attempt to avoid you, so you have to constantly be on your guard. Crossing roads has a whole new danger, when oncoming traffic has no idea you are there. Though pressing the button at a crossing, and seeing the confused drivers stop at the light as nobody crosses, did have its own amusement value. Callum made mental notes, to be transcribed later. This would all make for fascinating reading, he was sure of that. Once in the heart of the city, he was thirsty. No chance of buying a drink, as he couldn’t carry money of course. He could steal one, and drink it in the shop, but that would raise the possibility of a startled shop owner wondering how a bottle of water was floating off a shelf, and pouring itself into thin air.
Callum looked around, and saw he was standing next to one of those smart expensive gyms that were so popular now. Waiting until the receptionist was distracted, he pushed open the door, and walked in. The tiled floor was cool on his feet, but the air-conditioning inside made him feel even colder. He saw a sign pointing to the changing rooms, and followed it. Before he got there, a door marked ‘Toilets’ appeared on his left, and he went in, narrowly avoiding a smart young man on his way out. He ran the cold tap for a while, before holding his mouth under it, drinking his fill. When another two men came in and walked over to the urinals, he held his breath, and stood stock still. But they chatted away as they peed, completely unaware of him, as far as he could tell.
Next stop was the female changing room. ‘Why not’, he thought, unable to suppress a wide grin. He followed a woman though the door, then pressed his back against the cold tiles as soon as he was inside. Next to rows of lockers, women of all ages, and all shapes and sizes, were in various states of undress around him. Some were naked, others wearing towels, fresh from the shower. He watched spellbound, as they dressed and undressed a few feet from him, oblivious to his presence. When he heard his own heavy breathing, he realised that the chatting of the women was just about hiding the sound.
He would have to be more careful.
Outside, he confessed to himself that the scene had aroused him. But it could be no more than a diversion. After all, he could never do anything about it, as no woman was ever likely to willingly accept an invisible lover. Walking up the steps to City Hall, Callum was constantly swerving and stopping, having to avoid the people coming and going. He had soon found out that he had to constantly be aware who was behind him too, and avoid them walking straight into his back. One thing he hadn’t thought of. An important note for his records. Wandering around in the offices upstairs. he was able to read important documents, left around on desks, or still on computer screens. Following a smart young woman into a conference room, he stood in the corner as a group engaged in a heated exchange about expenditure on roads and pathways. But it was getting dark, and he was hungry.
The walk home was tiring, but he was still buzzing with excitement. He would write up the notes once he had eaten, going into detail about the gym, the changing rooms, and the offices. The possibilities were endless, as long as he remembered not to make any noise, or come into contact with people. He decided to treat himself to a pizza, and rang the delivery company to order his favourite. His feet must have been filthy, he was sure of that, even though he couldn’t see them. As he ran the water for the shower, he suddenly remembered something. Rushing downstairs to the phone, he called the pizza company. They told him his delivery was on the way, but he spoke over the voice of the young woman at the other end. “It’s not about that. I forgot to say that the money will be on the doormat at the front, and can he please leave the pizza there too. I am not able to answer the door at the moment”. The girl replied, “OK, I will let him know”.
Once he had showered and eaten the pizza, Callum started to write up his research. Re-reading the page, he thought about what he had achieved, using the most incredible thing ever invented by anyone. He had managed to get into some buildings, watch lots of women undress, and listen to conversations in toilets, and committee meetings. He would never be able to record or photograph anything, so it would all depend on his memory. Wrapped in a towel and dressing gown, he still felt cold, and he had been relieved that his door keys had been where he had left them. He scoured his brain for what he might do tomorrow. Where would he go? What could his invisibility achieve? He was convinced that it would come down to more than being passed unnoticed in the street, or watching an attractive young woman strip and get into a shower.
But it was a start. And the experiment was a success, undoubtedly.